Disclaimer: I only wish I owned the rights to Edward Elric and Roy Mustang and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. If I did, it would have been a hellova lot more violent, and yaoi. Definitely yaoi.
Plot Synopsis: The world doesn't end with a transmutation, it ends with a Flame. AU, RoyxEd.
Author's Note: I apologize beforehand for the italics, but it's simply how I write otherworldly scenes, flashbacks, etc.. Still no beta, so bear with me. Any mistakes are my own, and will be corrected as noticed. Now, on with the show!
The Fires Within
It was always the same. Tiny hands, pitch-black and ice-cold, tearing at hair, cloth, and flesh. Agony as his body was deconstructed, reduced to its basest elements, only to be reconstructed in the same excruciating fashion. His mind, inundated with information, all the knowledge of universe shoved en infinitum into its fragile human psyche. The endless expanse of light, a white so pure and true that it stabbed at the soul and threatened to rend it asunder.
And then, The Gate.
He could feel it as it rose up behind him, the doorway that led back to the world of man. He knew without looking that it was an impressive, imposing sight. Beautifully crafted symbols would be carved into its massive façade, each alchemic sigil a silent allegory of the life he had lived. He also knew that the doors were closed, and that they would remain that way until Truth came to receive its toll.
Edward didn't doubt that Roy – no, not Roy, but the monster Roy had become – had done this. For reasons he might never know, the man he loved had attempted human transmutation, and he had used Edward as fodder for the forbidden ritual.
Pain lashed at him, not physical – nothing but Truth could hurt him here – but emotional. His heart was broken, his spirit crushed, ground to dust beneath the polished heel of Roy Mustang's boots. All of his dreams for the future were gone – all but one – and he feared that even that would soon be beyond his reach.
It didn't matter, Edward told himself dully. Whether he lived or died now, it no longer mattered. He hadn't been fast enough – good enough – to stop his maddened lover, and by the time Truth was done with him, he'd be in no shape to help the others stop the Promised Day. His brother would never get his body back, Roy would never become Fuhrer, and the country that they all loved would fall.
He had failed.
"I didn't expect to see you again so soon," a voice sounded at his back, neither male nor female, yet inexplicably both, "Edward Elric."
Edward closed his eyes for a long moment, an image of Roy as he used to be playing behind his closed lids. The playful smirk that had always pissed him off, the beautiful onyx eyes that had once smiled into his own, the smooth timbre of his voice as he spoke of love and forever. . .
No more illusions, he told himself harshly. His Roy was gone, and he was about to die. There was nothing he could do to save either of them. All that he could do was turn around, face his mistakes, and let himself be judged.
So fucking be it.
He opened his eyes and slowly turned around, his eyes going wide as he stared not at Truth, but at the prone body of his little brother. "ALPHONSE!"
The whiteness swallowed his scream as he rushed forward, falling to his knees before a Gate that was not his own. His brother's body lied motionless before it, thin and emaciated by four years trapped in this nothingness. A long, wild mane of honey-blond hair hung over his face like a thick golden curtain, hiding the features of the only person who had ever believed in him, and he felt something in his chest wither and die.
"No, no, no, no, no," he chanted desperately, reaching out with a trembling hand to sweep that heavy golden fall aside. Alphonse's eyes were open, blank pools of dull gold as they gazed not at him, but at something beyond him, and he was terrified that he was too late. "Wake up, Al. Al – Alphonse, please, please, wake up! Alphonse! Don't do this to me, Al! Please, DON'T BE DEAD!"
He didn't know how long he sat there – minutes, hours, years – clinging to the only family he had left, begging his little brother not to leave him. He rocked back and forth, his face buried in his brother's hair, his mind fracturing with each unwanted breath. For four long years, he'd searched for an answer, for a way to restore Al to the body that his stupidity had robbed him of, to give him back his life. And now his love for the wrong man had taken that life away.
"I'm sorry, Al," he whispered brokenly, inconsolable in the face of his own perfidy. "I never meant to do this to you, not to you. Please, Al, forgive me. I didn't mean to love him more than you."
"Don't be stupid, Edward!" Edward jumped, startled, as the body in his arms began to stir. "You can't blame yourself for what The Colonel is doing. He's the one who went crazy, not you."
Edward stared at him, wide-eyed, unable to believe what his senses were telling him. He'd finally lost it, he thought dimly. He'd gone crazy and lost his fucking mind! And yet, he could feel flesh and hair as Alphonse's head tipped back over his arm, could see life as his large honeyed eyes scrunched at the corners and his chapped lips curved into a smile.
No fucking way! Ed thought with the first stirrings of panic. Dead was dead. You couldn't cheat it, and you sure as hell couldn't reverse it! He knew that better than anyone. So how the fuck was it that his dead brother was sitting here talking to him?!
"You know I'm not really here, Ed," the other – boy, man, thing? – scolded him gently. "My soul's still there," he lifted a hand and pointed at the unfamiliar Gate, "waiting for you. Don't make me wait too long, brother. It's only going to make it harder to find me another."
"But, I don't understand. Another what, Al?" His little brother began to laugh, a lilting, happy sound that he hadn't heard since childhood, and Edward began to tremble, afraid in a way that he had never been before. "You told me before that you couldn't come with me, that only your soul could guide your body from The Gate. If your body is dead, how the fuck are you supposed to do that?"
"It's too late for this body, Edward." Alphonse's voice shifted, pitching both higher and lower, amalgamating into that eerie sexless voice he'd heard before. "It has already been forced to the end of its span."
Alphonse's image shifted, the color leeching from his already pale skin, his hair disintegrating in a slow crawl of jet-lined white, and he knew. "You piece of shit!" he screamed furiously, gloved hands clenching around too-thin shoulders as he shoved the monstrosity away. "Who the fuck do you think you are? That's MY BROTHER you just killed!"
He lunged at the boy-shaped silhouette before him, roaring with rage as it dissipated before his very eyes. "Are you truly so foolish as to believe that you are the only alchemist eager to seek Truth this day?"
Those damning words seemed to come from all around him, bombarding him with a truth he didn't know if he could face. "No!" He staggered back, stunned by what those disembodied words, and the betrayal that they implied. "Oh God, no! He wouldn't do that to me! He-he couldn't!"
"That body is beyond saving, Fullmetal," The voice sounded again behind him, and he whirled frantically to face it, even as his worse fears were confirmed with that one hated word. "You must find another path if you wish to save your brother's soul."
Truth's featureless face blurring as his eyes filled with tears. He reached up and wiped them away with an impatient hand, but they kept coming, spilling down his face in an uncontrollable steam. Mustang hadn't just tried to kill him, he'd killed Alphonse too!
"How could you let him do that?!" he screamed, his voice breaking as grief vied with fury for possession of his heart. "He was my brother! The toll was mine to pay, not Mustang's!"
"And yet, pay it he did," came the agonizing response, "though in a way that was. . .unexpected."
Edward dropped to his knees, sobbing so hard that he could barely draw breath. "Alphonse," he groaned miserably, completely overwhelmed by grief. He'd worn that he would get his brother's body back. He'd promised. The blood seal that bound Al's soul to his armor was already weakening. If he couldn't deliver, if he couldn't fix the mistake he had made so many years ago, his little brother's soul would die, and he would have nothing left to live for.
No, this couldn't be the end, Edward thought, ignoring the desperation that danced along the edge of his consciousness. There had to be something he could do, some other way he could keep Al with him. It was there, it had to be, he just had to fucking figure it out!
Truth had mentioned something about finding another path, but for all his vaunted genius, he could think of nothing that would bring Al's physical body back from death. "It's not possible," he muttered, his voice was little more than a strained rasp as he finally lifted his head. "I've read all the books, I've done all the research. You think I don't know that human transmutation is impossible? You taught me that lesson well enough," he added bitterly.
That rounded head tilted to one side. "Strong are the ties that bind, alchemist."
"Ties that bind?" Edward spat as he took an aggressive step forward. "What the fuck is that supposed to mean...?"
His voice trailed off as his eyes widened with comprehension. The binding array, he thought excitedly, the one he'd used to bind Al's soul to Hohenheim's ancient suit of armor. If he could find the right vessel, he could save Al by binding his soul to it. It wasn't perfect, and there was always a chance that whatever container he chose would reject the foreign soul, but – maybe – it would by him some time.
Edward watched as a mouth appeared on the personification of Truth, a large set of teeth bared in what could only be described as a shit-eating grin, and scowled darkly. "Send me back!" he demanded, pointing one white-gloved finger threateningly at the bane of his existence. "Send me back so I can save my little brother!"
The smile widened impossibly, stretching across its head until it threatened to completely engulf it. An arm appeared first, then a leg, splashes of vivid gold set against an impossibly monochromatic backdrop, and Edward shook his tawny head negatively.
"You can fucking keep them," he said flatly, and he meant it. So long as he had Alphonse, he didn't need anything else. "Take whatever else you want from me too, just leave me enough to save my brother."
"That was the right choice," the arm changed, golden flesh melding with streaks of gunmetal gray, and Edward flinched at what it signified, "Edward."
Truth, and The Gate he guarded, began to waver, stretching and warping as the transmutation ended, and Edward let his eyes fall shut. He felt the pain of countless needle-like hands, sinking into his body and soul as was he dragged backwards through The Gate, but he didn't fight it. He didn't know what he would find back in the world of the living, but so long as he had his brother, he didn't really care. As long as he and Al were together, he would never ask for anything else, for as long as he fucking lived.
Edward opened his eyes to a world painted in shades of death. The walls were splattered in its crimson brilliance, the floor on which he laid drenched with it. He could see a body from where he lay, burnt almost beyond recognition. It lied on its stomach, face turned towards him, one arm stretched towards him,the other folded awkwardly beneath it. The eyes were gone, the sockets little more than blackened hollows, the jaw opened wide in a soundless scream.
He choked back a scream of his own as his gaze fell to the charred remnants of the corpse's back. Right there, right above where the torso curved into waist, on the only patch of unblemished flesh left on Hawkeye's body, was the only identifying mark he would ever need. Roy had told him about the tattoo once, about how his mentor had inked the secrets of his craft onto his daughter's back in an attempt to keep the dangerous alchemy from falling into the wrong hands.
Edward remembered being horrified by the story. "What kind of monster would do that to his own daughter?" he had demanded with outrage, his mind conjuring up images of Nina Tucker against his will. Roy had just shrugged, a faraway look in his dark eyes that suggested he was seeing something else altogether. Then, his gaze had sharpened and he'd taken Edward's flesh hand and guided his fingertips over the back of his own right hand.
Edward choked back a sob as he remembered it, the sensation of flowing script, to minute to be seen with the naked eye, beneath his fingertips. It had been coupled with the realization that Roy Mustang carried an even greater burden he ever could have imagined. Written an arcane language very few could comprehend, let alone translate, the ancient words spelled out the full secrets of one of the oldest forms of alchemy known to man. Roy explained that he had added them to the simplified flame array carved into his hand after the fight with the homunculus Lust, his intention to prevent himself from ever being laid so low again. He and Havoc had nearly died that day, and the aftermath had shaken Roy more than anyone had known.
"Do you see now," he'd asked in the soft, loving voice reserved only for him, "why he was so determined to keep his work from ever falling into the military's hands?"
Yes, he had, Edward thought as the salamander on Hawkeye's back blurred further and further out of focus. He'd felt the power in that inactive sigil, the potential for destruction that had caused an old man to maim his only child in an attempt to protect the world from its power, and he had understood.
Or believed that he had, Edward thought as grief threatened to choke him. He blinked as his eyes stung and burned, rolling onto his back to block out the sight of his dead friend. He ignored the wet, sticky liquid that clung to his hair and clothes, lifting a hand to dash away the moisture on his cheeks. He froze, his lips parting on a choked cry pain as fresh agony surged through him. His arms were on fire, a deep, searing pain that he felt all the way to the bone, and he wondered if Roy – no, not Roy, Mustang – had somehow used his alchemy to burn him from the inside out.
He clenched his teeth and pushed through the pain, half-rolling onto his side as he worked to get his throbbing arms under him. He pushed himself upright, his jaw locking as his traitorous limbs threatened to buckle beneath him. He swore and fought and struggled until he was sitting upright, his chest heaving as that little bit of exertion almost proved too much for him. He blinked sweat and blood and tears out of his eyes, feeling his heart sink as he got his first good look at his surroundings.
The blood was everywhere. It was smeared across the rounded walls, dripping from the pipes that ran up into the darkened ceiling, covering the cold cement ground beneath him in a fine scarlet glaze. . .the unfamiliar room was literally drenched in congealed blood. Even worse were the bodies strewn haphazardly throughout the area, some showing signs of the flame alchemy that was Mustang's trademark, others bearing long slashes that looked like sword or knife wounds. The one thing they all had in common was their presence inside of a giant alchemic array – an array which Edward sat at the heart of.
A human transmutation circle.
Wrought of white chalk and thick black ash, its circumference spanned the entire width of the circular room, and told a story too horrible to be fathomed. Mustang had done this, had committed the ultimate taboo, and he had sacrificed innocent human beings to do it.
"You utter fucking bastard!" Edward shouted, slamming his hands down into the ground on either side of him. Blood flew up to splatter his face and hair, and he bit back a sob as he fought the urge to break down and just fucking cry. "How could you do this to them, Roy? How could you do to this to her? She fucking loved you!"
His voice dropped to a low, tortured whisper as he added, "I fucking loved you, you treacherous piece of shit!"
Mustang was nowhere to been seen, of course. He'd killed all these fucking people and left him alone to deal with the aftermath. "I will kill you for this, Mustang!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. "I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU!"
He lifted his shaking hands, glaring at the blood coating them, at the macabre proof his lover's betrayal. His once-white gloves were soaked clear through, the thin fabric heavy with moisture, dripping blood onto his thighs even as he watched, but that wasn't what caused his heart skip a beat and redouble savagely. It was the sensation of cold, tacky, wet blood that made his eyes widen and his lips part on a gasp. He could feel the sanguine liquid that made his glove cling to his hand, could discern its thick, cloying texture by touch alone, something that he shouldn't be able to do.
Trepidation battled with hope as he slowly clenched his right hand into a fist. A part of him refused to believe it, unable to accept that he could've been rewarded for his spectacular failure. Truth didn't give, it took, usually more than you could afford to give. And yet, he couldn't deny what he felt, and he was left to wonder exactly what he had lost in exchange for this "gift".
The shaking increased, becoming violent shudders that wracked his entire body, as Edward slowly – hesitantly – grasped the hem of his glove. He was terrified to take it off, to find out that this was all an illusion and that he was still a stupid fucking cripple. But he was even more afraid to discover that he was right.
Al, he reminded himself with determination. He had to get to Al and make sure his little brother was safe until he found another vessel to bind him to. He couldn't afford to sit here on ass and let his fears get the better of him. He wasn't living for himself anymore. He would never again make the mistake of reaching for more than he deserved. From this moment on, it would all be for Alphonse.
His lips flattened into a determined line as he grasped the bottom of his right glove in his left hand. It clung stubbornly to his – automail, skin? – to his hand, and he yanked with all of his might. It came flying off, slipping from his grasp to disappear somewhere in the darkened gloom, but he didn't notice, too caught up in the wonder of flesh and blood and bone.
Thinner streaks of crimson stained his golden skin, and Edward couldn't help but trace one with a quivering fingertip. His remaining glove left a fresh smear of scarlet across the back of his hand, and he stripped it off impatiently, dropping it to the ground beside him. He ran his left hand over his right, marveling at the play of muscles beneath his skin, tenderly tracing tendons and the delicate contours of human bone. It was a fucking wonderful feeling.
He closed his hand in a fist, closing his eyes as pain lashed through the entire length of his arm. An answering throb came from his left, and his golden brows pulled in a frown. He could understand why his right arm hurt – fuck, he'd be shocked if it didn't – but his left arm should not be aching like this.
He studied his left hand closely, but could find nothing wrong. There were no signs of fire damage, no telltale reddening of the skin, no melted sections of flesh, so why the fuck did it hurt so damned much?
Edward shoved the sleeve of his jacket up over his forearm – a shadow bent over him, skin blistering and peeling away to reveal muscle, bone and sinew, "From one brother to another, take his gift and use it well, Edward Elric," – and let out a scream of pure anguish.
It echoed and rebounded, ringing loudly in his ears, winding itself through his very soul, just like the tattoo now seared into his flesh. Dense white lines, sweeping ebony curves, the Grand Arcane come to life on his unworthy flesh. Was this really all that Scar's life had been worth, an endless circle of blood and death, a sacrifice for an ally undeserving of him?
He frantically dragged his right sleeve back and found what he'd been dreading, the first half of the ancient array, the section that had made the deaths of fourteen State Alchemists possible. "Comprehension and deconstruction," he whispered thickly, tears flowing freely down his face as he hung his head.
Why did you do it? he begged the dead man silently, sobbing as he buried his face in his hands. Why did you sacrifice yourself for an arrogant, ignorant brat like me?!
There were no answers to comfort him, no uncomfortable silences to vex him, no weirdly poetic philosophical bullshit to confound him. There was nothing of Scar, the brother, the murder, or the proud Ishvalan, just like there was nothing left of Lieutenant Hawkeye. Scar may have made the decision to save his life, and Riza had clearly been ready to sacrifice herself to save Roy, but it was he and Mustang who were responsible for all of this. They had killed them both, and it fell to Edward to make sure that their sacrifices hadn't been in vain. It didn't cleanse the blood that stained his hands – he had a feeling that nothing fucking could – but at least he could avenge them.
He knew it was a slippery slope, the path of vengeance, but it was one that he would – that he could - tread, if only for the sake of those who still lived. He wasn't like Roy. He would never sacrifice his soul for the sake of revenge. But his allies were still down here somewhere, fighting to save Amestris from Father and his monster children, and they couldn't do it alone. Once that was done, and the country was spared, it would be just he and Al again, and then he could dedicate the rest of his life to making things right.
He swiped at his damp cheeks and forcing himself to stand on his own two feet. He wasn't a child in need of comfort anymore – Mustang and his own naiveté had seen to that – and it was a lesson he would never forget. He was a grown fucking man, and it was past time he started acting like one.
Edward stripped off his ruined jacket, the deep red shade one he would never wear again, and stumbled over to Lieutenant Hawkeye. He draped it over as gently as he could, bowing his head in a gesture of respect. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant," he told her quietly, his guilt almost more than he could bear. "I know you loved him, but I have to stop him now. I hope you understand."
There was no response, but then, he wasn't expecting one. He just hoped that wherever her soul had gone, in whatever after life she'd believed in, she could forgive him for what he was about to do, because he sure as hell would never forgive himself.
Edward turned away, intent on hunting Mustang down so he could end this, when a faint glimmer caught his eye. He dropped into a defensive crouch, his golden eyes darting nervously through the darkened chamber, when he saw it again. There, in the very center of the room, at the heart of the transmutation array, an azure-tinged light shined luminously beneath the spill of rapidly drying blood.
He frowned and cautiously made his way towards it, kneeling before the spot where he had awakened such a short time ago. The glow deepened even as he watched, creating an eerie effect as the blood seemed ripple over it. He shook his fair head and reached down, grimacing as he used his bare hands to scoop the sanguine liquid out of his way, and his breath caught as he saw what he'd uncovered.
It was another transmutation circle, simple yet elegantly drawn, an array within an array. Why would Mustang need two human transmutation circles? Edward asked himself with surprise. Just one would have been sufficient for resurrection, had bringing back the dead actually been possible, so again. . .why?
Edward glanced back at where Hawkeye laid, a vague shape under a blood-red shroud, and thought that maybe he knew. He'd like to think that, somewhere in the depths of Mustang's rotten soul, there was some tiny piece of the man he'd once been, enough to have at least attempted to make things right. Unfortunately, not even he was naïve enough to believe something like that anymore. Roy was gone – for good – and it was something he was going to have to learn to life with.
He sighed tiredly and forced himself to his feet, following the blood trail out of the room. He spied four sets of footprints, each a difference size, marring the blood-swathed path before him. The tread patterns of the first three were unmistakable, the design created specifically for the Amestrian Military. The fourth he didn't recognize, but he didn't doubt that one of those sets of prints belonged to Mustang. Edward would bet his pocket watch on it. He just hoped that he found him in time to keep him from killing anyone else.